Cold wind on my face. Raindrops fall on my hot, bruised lips like tears. I smell mud and rain; something sweet and green. A hand- not my hand- on my shoulder.
"Oh fuck oh fuck..." his voice is trembling. Whatever he's seen, whatever it was, it must have been awful. He sounds so scared. "Are you all right? Say something," he begs. I don't know him. I would remember this voice, this warm hand. I do not know him. I look into his face, confused. Is he talking to me?
He's looking into my eyes, worried. He shakes my shoulder gently. "Hey...are you hurt?"
"What the fuck just happened?" My voice is rough and dusty. My tongue feels thick and foreign in my mouth. "Jesus." My voice is not my own. Disoriented, I look down at my hands. Red lacquered nails, long skinny fingers, wedding ring. They, at least, are familiar. I flex my fingers, absorbed by the sight of them moving along so obediently.
"Are you hurt?" he asks. Who is this guy? Why is he asking so many questions? I don't know him...do I?
"My face... I split my lip, I think." I lift one shaky hand to my poor, wounded mouth. It comes away slick and bloody, but all my teeth seem fine. The blood isn't much, but it's enought o turn my stomach. My lip feels too hot, too fat. It's already starting to swell. Shit.
"Your car went off the road. You hit a tree," he tells me, looking concerned. "Are you okay? Tell me where it hurts." His voice is gentle.
"My heart," I tell him. "I think it's broken. My husband...he's cheating on me again. We had a fight. Fucking bastard. Is he here?" I ask, confused.
"No. There was no one else in the car with you," he says, receiving the news of James' infidelity with a calm nod and a sorrowful smile. "Anything else? I could try to call an ambulance, if-"
"They can't help me. There's no cure for what I've got," I say in my strange new voice. It sounds harsh, streetwise. I like it. I light a cigarette, blow out smoke.
"Are you injured? Besides your heart?" he asks me, crouching down beside the open doot of the car to look at me more closely. I can see his dark curls, wet with rain; his soaked leather jacket, his sweet face.
Something about his face...so familiar...what is it? I know I've seen him before... somewhere...but where? And then I remember...
James' phone call comes just as I'm leaving work. He won't be home tonight, he says. So sorry. Poker night with the guys, over at Ray's house. Says he'll just crash there so he don't have to drive home drunk. And then I know. It's starting again. Motherfucker. The lies, the cheating. He's got another girlfriend, I know it. My guts know it even though my head doesn't want to believe he'd do it again.
"You pig!" I say, disgusted. "If you don't come home tonight, don't bother coming home at all."
"But, baby-" James says, trying to sweet-talk me.
"You bastard, fuck you. I'll see you at home."
"I can't," he says. "I already told Ray-"
"Bullshit. Come home. We need to talk," I tell him.
"Callie, I'll talk to you all you want tomorrow, but you're too upset right now. You're not making any sense-"
"Upset? I'm upset? Upset is for when I break a fingernail, James. This is a whole different ballpark!"
"Callie...honey...what's the big deal? It's just a night out with the guys."
"Oh you fucking liar. You know what, forget it. Don't come home tonight. Don't come home at all. Have fun with your new girlfriend, asshole."
"I know what you're doing, James. I'm not a fucking idiot."
"You're completely paranoid," he says, sounding shaky. I busted him. I know it, and he knows it, too.
"I'm not paranoid, I'm right. I'll see you in divorce court, you prick." I hang up. I refuse to cry and smoke a cigarette instead. It will kill me to cry over James again, and so I bite my tears back and get in the car. It's raining. I leave town, and it starts to rain harder. We live up in the mountains, and the highway's always deserted this time of night. I pass a few cars heading back towards city limits, and then no one. The road is empty, a black void... and then I see the hitchhiker.
I remember it all; the puddle, the wild loopy skid; his white face looking back over his shoulder. A final, mortal thud. "Oh fuck." I am absolutely convinced that he must be dead. And if he's dead, I'm either seeing his ghost, or I'm dead, too. "I... did I hit you?" I ask him, for this boy bears the same face as the one in my memory. "Are you an angel?"
This excerpt from "The Hitchhiker: An Unlikely Love Story" is an original work of fiction by Molly Anderson-Childers. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved by the author.